The Basics of The Next Generation Air Traffic System – NextGen

The Next Generation Air Traffic System: What You Need to Know

Air traffic controllers working at screens in an Air Traffic Command Center.
US Government Photo

NextGen is short for Next Generation Air Transportation System—an FAA program developed to modernize today's national airspace system with the help of the entire industry. NextGen isn’t just a single program; it's made up of a series of initiatives designed to make the airspace system more efficient.

Without really examining the components of NextGen, it can be difficult to understand what NextGen is really about and why it costs so much to implement. Below is an overview of the basics of NextGen.

History & Development

The vision for NextGen was formed in the early 2000s. It officially began taking form in December 2003 as part of the Vision 100- Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act. In January 2004, the Department of Transportation announced the plan for NextGen: It would be a multi-agency, multi-year modernization of the air traffic system that would extend into the future at least 25 years.

In December 2004, the DOT published the Integrated Plan for the Next Generation Air Transportation System, which outlined goals and processes for NextGen.

NextGen was divided into short-term (2004-2012), mid-term (2012-2020), and long-term (2020-2030 and beyond) goals and visions.

According to the FAA, implementing and maintaining NextGen programs will cost about $37 billion through 2030. The FAA also stated that the cost savings from the same set of programs are expected to be $106 billion.

NextGen Benefits

  • A better travel experience for passengers and operators
  • Fuel savings for aircraft operators
  • A reduction in emissions due to more direct and efficient routes and approaches
  • Reduced separation minimums
  • Reduced congestion
  • Better communications across the airspace system and its users
  • Standardized access to weather information
  • Improved onboard technology

Specific NextGen Components

There are several specific components to the NextGen system.


Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast is a more accurate and reliable system than the RADAR system in place currently. ADS-B will broadcast aircraft information such as speed, location, and route to air traffic controllers and other participating aircraft through the use of satellite radio signals and ground stations. Aircraft will need to be properly equipped to participate.


System-Wide Information Management is a program that the FAA developed to manage information over many different channels better. SWIM will also control the standardization and security of modern data.

Data Communication

Also known as Data Comm, this system provides a new way for pilots and controllers to access information in a digital format, specifically the transfer of textual clearances, approach procedures and instructions from controllers to pilots and back.


The Aviation Safety Information Analysis & Sharing program is meant to consolidate safety reports into one database for easier access and better analysis.

PBN and Reduced Separation Standards

The FAA has plans to reduce the separation standards for aircraft with the help of ADS-B and PBN, or Performance-Based Navigation techniques. Simultaneous parallel approaches are the focus, along with increased capacity through RNAV and RNP procedures.


Trajectory-Based Operations means that air traffic control will move away from clearance-based operations and move toward trajectory-based operations based on automated information.

Low-Visibility Operations

NextGen includes improvements to low-visibility operations with the use of Heads-Up Display (HUDs), Enhanced Flight Vision System (EFVS), and Ground-Based Augmentation System Landing System III which will provide a way for aircraft to auto-land in low-visibility conditions.

Airport Improvement Program

Continuous research and development of airports and runways to improve capacity and operations.

Flight Deck Enhancements

Cockpit improvements will come through TIS-B and FIS-B services for traffic and weather updates in the cockpit, EFBs, which provide a multitude of information in electronic format, and Synthetic Vision Systems, which provide external topography information to the cockpit. Also, Airborne Access to SWIM (AAtS) will provide flight crews with real-time access to SWIM. Another program called Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS-X) will operate like TCAS, but with fewer nuisance alarms.


The NAS Voice System will update the communications infrastructure, specifically the switches involved in air traffic control communications, to better handle the modern communications of the air traffic system.

Collaborative Air Traffic Management Technologies (CATMT)

CATMT is a fancy acronym for teamwork and data-sharing among air traffic managers to make improvements to aircraft routes, route planning, and investigation of delays.

Common Support Service-Weather (CSS-Wx)

CSS-Wx used to be called NNEW, or NextGen Network Enabled Weather. In 2016, the FAA will begin to disseminate standardized weather information from one source only. The weather information will be compiled by the FAA with NOAA and provided on the new NextGen Weather Processor (NWP).


AIRE stands for Atlantic Interoperability Initiative to Reduce Emissions and is an international cooperative program between the United States and European Commission to work toward environmentally friendly solutions in aviation.